A seminarian’s New York Post op-ed on the new, corrected translation

From the New York Post comes an op-ed from a seminarian for the Archdiocese of New York who used to be a writer for the Post.

Critical mass
A priest in training explains why the Vatican is changing Catholic worship
November 6, 2011

English-speaking Catholics are in for a jolt later this month, as significant changes come to the words of the Mass they have been praying for more than 40 years.

To be sure, these changes pale in comparison to what happened in the 1960s, [Something liberals always forget to remember.] when, following the Second Vatican Council, the Mass was revised and translated from Latin into the vernacular. The updated Roman Missal, due to hit parishes three weeks from today, is simply a new English translation of the same prayers, albeit far more faithful to the Latin original.

But even modest changes can have a big impact on the way Catholics approach their worship — and on the way they interact with the rest of the world. [This reflects two ideas which we must keep firmly in mind.  First, the way we pray has a reciprocal relationship with what we believe (les orandi lex credendi) and also the useful distinction in the paring ad intra and ad extra (consideration of something for the Church within herself and also how the Church interacts with the whole world.)] Indeed, reforms like this one are key to understanding Pope Benedict XVI’s vision for the Church. [So far so good.]

Put simply, the project is about restoring beauty and reverence to their rightful place in Catholic liturgy. It succeeds in a way that Catholics and non-Catholics alike should appreciate.

The background story involves the 50-year debate among Catholics over the meaning of Vatican II.

That Council, held from 1962-65, aimed to equip the Church to engage effectively with the modern world. It expanded the use of the vernacular at Mass, dealt with tricky questions like relations with non-Catholics, and attempted to re-propose the truths of the faith in light of the challenges facing contemporary man.

But what does “engaging the modern world” actually look like? A 1969 Vatican document on the topic shunned word-for-word substitution in favor of what was called “dynamic equivalence”; the idea was to get at the general meaning of a prayer [also know as “the gist”… which isn’t good enough] and translate that into contemporary English.

It sounds good in theory, but much of the poetry that elevated the original text was simply stripped away. [Not to mention what the prayers really say.]

More generally, the Church found that the drive to make the liturgy “relevant” often obscured the transcendant — fueling the impression, reflected by declining Mass attendance in most Western countries, that the Church had nothing meaningful to say. [Could it be that this fellow has been reading WDTPRS from time to time?] Before his election, Pope Benedict labeled this nothing less than a “crisis.” His 2000 book, “The Spirit of the Liturgy,” called for a recovery of postures of worship that emphasize the Mass as a humble encounter with a reality far beyond man’s power to create or contain. [Nicely phrased.  Good work.]

Since becoming pope, he has labored to emphasize the continuity of the modern Church with its past, even permitting the more widespread celebration of the traditional Latin Mass. The effort to revise the English text, though it began before he was elected, is part of the same story.

WDTPRS kudos to Mr. Wilson

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I recently dove into the sea of “dynamic equivalency” these last few months. I found that the English translation of the Roman Missal failed even in achieving this goal. While I do agree that the “gist” is there for some things, the addition of general and specific errors plus the ommission of truth falls gravely short of missing the mark of any sort of equivalency.

    This was a nice read. I can hardly wait for Nov. 27th, myself…when we finally get the Nicene Creed back…and can hear a consistently licit consecration formula for the wine!! Yippeee!

  2. lhuizenga says:

    It’s not just dynamic equivalence. It’s more; the translation philosophy was informed deeply by Noam Chomsky, of all people, and thus the translators operated with a severe form-content split, as if profound content could be put into simple forms. I think many linguists nowadays would find that quaint.

  3. Maltese says:

    Thank God for Bugnini. In manufacturing a new mass by committee, Bugnini actually preserved the Traditional Latin Mass. Vatican II called for hybridizing and radically altering the TLM, which thankfully didn’t happen. Instead, it was saved and preserved by the likes of the FSSPX.

    I’m not too hopeful that the new translation will solve any of the problems vis-a-vis the deficiencies in the new liturgy. It’s praxis will still remain more meal than Sacrifice. As Msgr. Gherardini said:

    There will soon 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

    The reason that 70% of mass-goers disbelieve in the Real Presence is because Holy Mass is no longer understood as Sacrifice. This is entirely the fault of Paul VI (who said he wanted the new mass to be closer to protestant worship (Cf. Alfons Cardinal Stickler), and the possibly masonic Bugnini.

    Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it…

  4. Tradster says:

    I cannot help but be mystified as to why the relatively minor rewording of some prayers in the Catholic NO Mass is considered newsworthy fodder for the NY Times, WaPo, LA Times, and the other secular media.

  5. Last week Rev. Know-It-All hit another one out of the park with his post on the grave flaws of dynamic equivalence. A sample:

    Dynamic equivalence tries to translate the thought of a text, not necessarily its literal meaning. After all, we want to bring the thoughts of the ancients to life, and since they were just folks like us, we should translate their words into modern words and phrases that express their true meaning. Thus, a Latin phrase like “bene optime” (literally, well best) should be translated as “groovy.” Oh wait, no one says groovy anymore. The dynamically equivalent translation of “bene optime” as groovy would have been dynamic and equivalent for about three hours sometime in the autumn of 1967. Now it just sounds ridiculous.

    He goes on to explain how political correctness and political agendas came into the liturgy through the door of dynamic equivalence, and gives a specific example of how a dynamic equivalent “translation” has distorted theology.

  6. albinus1 says:

    Last Monday, on Halloween, I read the werewolf story from Petronius’ Satyricon with my third-semester Latin students. At one point, the narrator says that, upon realizing that his companion had turned into a wolf, “mihi anima in naso esse”; literally, “my soul was in my nose”. (Petronius here is using the historic infinitive, very familiar to readers of Livy.)

    True “dynamic equivalence” might render this expression into colloquial English as “my heart was in my mouth” — a more colloquial but similar English expression that exactly translates the thought, in words that are not identical but are generally similar. I think that’s generally OK in a translation designed for people to read — though I would probably take off a point or two for it on a translation exam for it, unless the student also gave me the literal meaning in parentheses.

    The “Good News” Bible (copies of which were given to us when I was in Catholic school in the early 70s) might have rendered this as “I was freaked out” (or, perhaps truer to the late 60s-early 70s, “I felt like I was trippin'”). Some other attempts to be “colloquial” might render it as, “I was blown away”. (The character Jeff Scipoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High might render it as, “Gnarly!” ;-) )

    Given what the 1973 ICEL version does to so many of the Latin texts, I think it might have rendered this bit of Petronius as, “Wow”. Or just left it out altogether.

  7. albinus1 says:

    Jeff Scipoli — sorry, “Spicoli”.

  8. wmeyer says:


    These relatively minor changes are seen as dangerous by the NYT and others, because the change is seen as a move back to the old traditions. And the notion that the translation is true to Catholic traditions makes it sinister.

  9. Supertradmum says:

    In graduate school, at Notre Dame, in the 1980s, there was a movement about translations which gave the translator much more power to interpret a text from his or her own point of view, making the translation “his own”. Those of us who were more conservative by nature thought this idea, which later became part of the then popular studies of Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida ideas of “deconstructing” a text, not only dishonest, but revolutionary. Of course, deconstructionism developed into post-deconstructionism and affected a generation or two of scholars when approaching a text. I truly believe this infected the Church at several levels, as the philosophies were connected to Post-Modernism, as well as egotism, that the text and the interpretation of the text is all that there is and creates reality. So, a banal translation reflects the banality of life and the subjectivity of the translator, etc. For those who never had to endure such stuff, I can only say that the faculty at Notre Dame loved this stuff, and some still do. It leads to more than a banality of language, creating the type of deviation from the original text, and “obscured the transcendent” which this seminarian rightly notes. John Searle is part of this school, which at root, is totally individualistic, subjective anarchic, and godless. And, may I add, that like the translators of the horrible ICEL versions, these people put their philosophy before the beauty of the language, rationality, and, of course, Revelation. By “engaging the world”, the liturgical translators were re-creating their version of the Liturgy and , therefore, Truth.

  10. robtbrown says:

    albinus1 says:

    Last Monday, on Halloween, I read the werewolf story from Petronius’ Satyricon with my third-semester Latin students. At one point, the narrator says that, upon realizing that his companion had turned into a wolf, “mihi anima in naso esse”; literally, “my soul was in my nose”. (Petronius here is using the historic infinitive, very familiar to readers of Livy.)

    If memory serves, in the Roman epoch the meaning of anima is spirit–the soul is animus. Later, the medievals reversed the meanings.

  11. RichR says:

    After coming back to my faith in college, then going through a 4 year stint through Traditional Catholicism, I have returned to the OF Mass with more appreciation for it’s benefits. While I am no longer surprised at the snarky comments from Trads regarding the OF Mass (probably some baggage from previous liturgical battles) , I have come to realize that the Sacrifice of the Mass is a gift from the Church that is to be received, not picked apart and analyzed by lay “professional Catholics”. Our job is not to be liturgical policemen, but rather to bring the Gospel to a dying world that desperately needs to hear it. Let the hierarchy debate and revise the liturgy (that’s one of their jobs), but let’s not fall into the error that ritual purity means closeness to God. There was a certain group in the Gospels that took this view of spirituality.

    Also, for those who are well formed in the dogmas and practices of the faith, do you really think that the OF Mass is a) an occasion of sin or b) going to hurt your faith? I went through a 10 year binge on apologetics starting in college (mainly because I was denied the Faith in my earlier years when liberal catechesis was the norm). Those truths of the faith now inform my worship at Mass. I love Latin and the EF Mass, and I started a men’s gregorian chant group….all for love of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Many locals are appreciative of the schola we started, but there are some that seem to think their faith is going to be destroyed by going to a Ordinary Mass.

    Let’s inform ourselves about liturgy, let’s pray for holiness, but let’s not belittle a gift Holy Mother Church gives us. Leave the arrogant snarky comments aside. Christ will be thankful.

    As for the translations, can we not be happy that the elevated language and fidelity to the editio typica tertia will draw people more closely into the Holy Sacrifice? Or must we criticize everything OF and maintain our ritual purity?

  12. Fr_Sotelo says:

    RichR: A very thoughtful post.

    I have been using the new Roman Missal for a month now, and in my country parish I have not heard any negative comments. The biggest adjustment is having to follow the people’s parts with the handouts we copied. Some have said, “Father, why bother with a new translation. Just go back to the Latin and be done with it!” LOL

  13. Nicole says:

    RichR, while I agree with Fr_Sotelo that your post was thoughtful, it’s missing the point. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is meant to be just that, holy. While the laity may have no influence over the Bishops and priests in the hierarchy, they do have influence over their respective subjects and children. These lay individuals have a responsibility to those under their authority to discern whether the sacred services will be an occasion of sin and then safeguard their “little ones.” One has a responsibility to himself also to discern these things.

    If occurrences such as the priest celebrant saying that Christ said “such-and-such” when Christ never did say “such-and-such” are not an occasion of sin, then, you’re right, we shouldn’t say anything. But it looks to me like the putting words in Christ’s mouth (i.e., changing “pro vobis et pro multis effundetur” to “pro vobis et pro omnibus/universis effundetur”) is the most explicit example of blasphemy, false prophecy, and formal heresy one can point to…not to mention deception.

    A cake given as a gift with 500 mg of potassium cyanide isolated in one part is still an evil cake, just as a translation of a Missal with one error in it is an evil translation. It’s not belittling the Holy Sacrifice to expect it to be celebrated in a holy fashion, but rather likely sentiment stemming from a profound respect for the bloody sacrifice of Christ on the Cross 2000 years ago.

  14. jhayes says:

    @Nicole, here is part of a letter from Cardinal Arinze on the “pro multis” translation:

    There is no doubt whatsoever regarding the validity of Masses celebrated with the use of a duly approved formula containing a formula equivalent to “for all” as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has already declared (cf. Sacra Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei, Declaratio de sensu tribuendo adprobationi versionum formularum sacramentalium, 25 ianuarii 1974, AAS 66 [1974], 661). Indeed, the formula “for all” would undoubtedly correspond to a correct interpretation of the Lord’s intention expressed in the text. It is a dogma of faith that Christ died on the Cross for all men and women (cf. John 11:52; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2).


  15. RichR says:


    I appreciate your kind tone. However I do not believe I have missed the point. When you say, “These lay individuals have a responsibility to those under their authority to discern whether the sacred services will be an occasion of sin”, I understand where you are coming from. We all have a wariness of the heresy that is thrown out to our children at religious ed classes, bad homilies, and the like. It makes me sick to hear this stuff spouted off from older relatives because I have to mop up the mess they leave behind and set my kids straight. I’ll bet you’ve had to do the same.

    But we have to stop and catch ourselves: when we are saying that the approved form of Mass, said reverently and without “improvement” from the celebrant, is itself an occasion of sin, we start down the path of being “holier than the pope.” Even Mr. Michael Davies said that the Missale Romanum of Pp Paul VI does not contain anything that could be considered intrinsically harmful to the faithful. To do so would call into question the indefectibility of the Church. Is it not disordered to call an official form of Catholic worship “an occasion of sin”? Does that not seem disordered? I’m honestly asking this, because this is a conversation that the Church Militant needs to have.

    As the to the Latin you present, we both know that is not in the MR2002. Despite the engaging debate this topic has afforded on many occasions, it will be a thing of hte past when the new translations come into force. Deo gratias, no?

    We teach our children the Faith, we receive the Sacraments, and stay faithful to the devotions that have nourished souls for centuries. That will get our souls to Heaven. If we achieve liturgical nirvana but our soul suffers irreparable damage in the process (anger, hate, disrespect towards the hierarchy, deciept, etc…….and these are real temptations), then what does it matter?

    Let’s continue the fight for souls. Maybe, in our lifetime, we will see something that is more traditional. Maybe the EF will in fact become commonplace. That’s great! But let’s not think that the OF Mass will be the demise of souls.

  16. Nicole says:

    @jhayes —

    I have no doubt that the Ordinary Form as it is currently being said in English (yet only 18 more days of this) confects the sacrament validly. That doesn’t make the consecration formula for the wine licit, however.

    There are two articles which one must be careful not to confuse. 1) Christ died for all. 2)Christ poured out His blood for many. While these articles are related, they are not interchangeable. Christ dying for all provides the opportunity for all to come to the Father by Christ through Baptism. Christ pouring out His blood for many shows that only a specific group benefit of Christ’s sacrifice…and that there will be some who choose to spurn the redemption Christ offers.

    “For many” refers to an accident of quantity…”for all” refers to a universal or absolute; there is an obvious difference in meaning regardless as to whether the intent of the purpose of Christ’s death was implicit in his statement or not.

    Once again, I do NOT doubt the validity of the sacrament as confected under the species of wine. I believe that the consecration formula is essentially valid, yet accidentally defective and illicit. That merely means that grave sin is committed by the use of this accidentally defective consecration formula, not that there is no sacrament.

  17. RichR says:

    Illicit? Is that according to church law? The same lawmaker approved the translation.

    Merely a grave sin? Committed by whom?

  18. Nicole says:


    Thanks for the thorough response :)

    I totally understand the fear of pride, vainglory, rash and harsh judgment, and the like in regard to the judgment of our superiors. I have to check myself against these almost constantly (and when I’m not checking, I’m likely failing terribly). However, as regards the 1973 English translation (better described as an interpretation) of the Missale Romanum, I don’t think that I am in bad company, as it was the Pope himself who to my understanding initiated the re-translation of the English Missal after the original introduction of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal. While the Missal as written in Latin may contain nothing of intrinsic harm, that as it is in English certainly does. It is not a question of the indefectibility of the Church, as it was not the Universal Church who gave us our English translation, but rather the ICEL (a mixed commission, not a direct authority). I would consider it very, very carefully before I ever would speak against Pope Paul VI’s Missa Latina, as I know of NOTHING in it which is an occasion of sin. Unfortunately, there is a distinction here, since we do not use the Missa Latina of Pope Paul VI, but rather an obviously defective interpretation of it. I think it does seem disordered to call an official form of Catholic worship “an occasion of sin.”

    Yes, we both know that “pro omnibus” or “pro universis” as part of the consecration formula for the wine is not in any Roman Missal. However, the English version of the consecration formula would translate back to one or the other, and not to “pro multis.” And most certainly a loud “Deo gratias” ought to echo off the roofs of neighboring buildings here after another 18 days!!

    I personally do not care for any sort of liturgical nirvana, as it looks legalistic to my eyes (and legalism can tank one in presumption so easily). I am only concerned about the desecration of altars, the poisoning of the “little ones,” and the additional pain given Christ.

  19. Nicole says:


    I am speaking of licitness in a “moral theology” sense, as in, that which involves grave sin. Pope St. Pius V’s De Defectibus follows this thread of thought:

    “Defects on the part of the form may arise if anything is missing from the complete wording required for the act of consecrating. Now the words of the Consecration, which are the form of this Sacrament, are:


    “If the priest were to shorten or change the form of the consecration of the Body and the Blood, so that in the change of wording the words did not mean the same thing, he would not be achieving a valid Sacrament. If, on the other hand, he were to add or take away anything which did not change the meaning, the Sacrament would be valid, but he would be committing a grave sin. ”

    It would be a grave sin committed by the priest (note, the document does not accuse of mortal sin, only commission of objective grave matter, though it would be hard for me to come up with some way a priest would be excused from mortal sin in this case by either lackings in full knowledge or consent of the will).

  20. RichR says:


    Your thoughts are the same thoughts that occupied my mind when I was journeying through Traditionalism, almost to a “T” (haha!).

    But I have to ask, does this not illustrate my point? If one believes that the consecration of the wine is illicit (despite the fact that it is legal, ie, licit in the eyes of our God-given authority: Rome), then it is objectively grave to use it. Therefore, a priest is committing an objective sin every time he says Mass in the English missal the Catholic Church has approved. Therefore, we all have the duty to never go to an OF English Mass because it might cause scandal and because it would be an occasion of sin for us and the celebrating priest.

    It’s ritual purity. Plain and simple. Laymen decide that the hierarchy is wrong in their approval of the translation, and it all spins out of control.

    Man, if we spent half of this energy evangelizing pagans……. ;-)

  21. Nicole says:

    First off, I am not a traditionalist, nor do I hear you claiming that I am. I merely wanted to get that out of the way.

    To my knowledge, RichR, when a person says “Rome,” he’s not always referring to the Roman Pontiff, but one of the congregations of his Curia. These congregations do have a jurisdiction, but that is only in virtue of the Pope’s authority. Also, while there are aspects of what is called the 1973 “translation” which may or may not have been approved, to my personal knowledge, the translation in general was never given approval. I have looked thoroughly for said approval, and have only been able to find tidbits, like the approval of the “translation” of Eucharistic Prayer I in 1970.

    However, by the enacting of past and current events, it does not appear that Rome has, in fact, approved the 1973 translation, but rather tolerated it until what time Bl. Pope John Paul II saw it fit to get the ball rolling on a genuine and accurate translation.

    Your syllogism appears sound (excepting what you have in parentheses) until the final conclusion. We are not an occasion of sin for the priest. He makes his own occasion by not using the correct words in the consecration of the chalice. I would agree that it would be a scandal to attend an ordinary form of the Mass in English as it is currently celebrated if the attendance is outside of one’s duty (i.e., Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation).

    Also, Bl. Pope John Paul II’s decision to get “accurate” translations for us in English is a clue that something is really wrong here. Natural reason confirms this with any sort of look into the words of the Missa Latina in comparison to what we hear or see in English. If we cannot interpret, judge and discern what we sense first-hand, it is utterly impossible that we could take the word of another person, whether he be a bishop or Pope (since their words come through our senses), on anything as well.

  22. RichR says:

    I did not state that attendance at an OF Mass was scandal as if it were a fact. I say it to illustrate my point.

  23. Nicole says:

    Yes, and I wrote :) “I would agree…”; it was meant to be a conditional expression based upon what the future holds (our agreement) if you had stated as a fact that it were a scandal. I understand the illustration of your point…and thank you for your patience in this discussion.

    The fact is that ordination and even ascension to a See do not make a person a saint or impeccable, and that in no way makes the Church defectible, either.

  24. RichR says:

    My bad. I see now I was wrong to imply you stated as fact.

    True (about ordination and elevation to the episcopacy). Was it Dante that said, “The floor of Hell is lined with the skulls of Bishops”? [No, it was not. And I have never found a good citation for this.] Big shoes to fill, and terrible responsibilities to be held accountable for. We both can agree that being laymen is much easier in talking about these types of issues. However, if Rome says that “for all” is a “duly approved formula” (cf. CDWDS in jhayes post above), then does not the argument of liciety fall by the wayside? IOW, if the CDWDS approves it, is that not, by definition, lawful? If it is lawful, then is it not very dangerous to even insinuate illicitness because of the consequences?

    These are very fine issues of theology that, frankly, a layman really shouldn’t delve into. It creates dissension, confusion, and anger. A layman saying that the OF “pro multis” renders the Mass valid but illicit, and therefore gravely sinful, is treading into very dangerous ground. The potential to lead souls astray is very real, and I, for one, am not about to take on that burden when my station in life does not require me to split those hairs. Really. There are people smarter than us and that carry this burden on their shoulders who are guiding the Church where she needs to be. To second guess, correct, and protest the Church’s decisions is not our place. Yes, there are individuals that misuse their authority, but that does not mean that we are called to step in and play shepherd.

    I do not mean to imply that you believe any or all of these things. I am simply pointing out that there are serious consequences of these types of things, and in the end, they don’t amount to a hill of beans for the average layman getting to Heaven.

  25. jhayes says:

    Here is Pope Benedict saying that neither “for many” nor “for all” express the issue fully – both need to be read in the context of the gospel as a whole.

    3. What, then, should we make of the new translation? Both formulations, “for all” and “for many”, are found in Scripture and in tradition. Each expresses one aspect of the matter: on one hand, the all-embracing salvation inherent in the death of Christ, which he suffered for all men; on the other hand, the freedom to refuse, as setting a limit to salvation. Neither of the two formulae can express the whole of this; each needs correct interpretation, which sets it in the context of the Christian gospel as a whole. I leave open the question of whether it was sensible to choose the translation “for all” here and, thus, to confuse translation with interpretation, at a point at which the process of interpretation remains in any case indispensable. [10] There can be no question of misrepresentation here, since whichever of the formulations is allowed to stand, we must in any case listen to the whole of the gospel message: that the Lord truly loves everyone and that he died for all. And the other aspect: that he does not, by some magic trick, set aside our freedom but allows us to choose to enter into his great mercy.


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