Translators “often” accidently leave things out. This time the lacuna concerns the SSPX and the Novus Ordo.

Translation can be hard.  Even when it isn’t, translators are sometimes rushed or tired.  However, it is good to pay attention to get all the words, especially those pesky little words that can change completely the sense of a sentence.

There is some sloppy translation in the recent Vatican Insider story and it concerns a key point.

The English version has this:

“I will never accept that the new Mass is legitimate or licit; I believe it lacks validity, as Mgr. Lefebvre used to say”

The Italian version has this:

“Mai accetterò di dire che la nuova Messa è legittima o lecita, io dirò che essa è spesso invalida, come diceva monsignor Lefebvre.”

Italian “spesso” means “often”. That little “often” changes the sense of the sentence.

The original French (if someone’s notes can be called “original”) also has the word “often”.

“Often invalid” points to the possibility that there are defects in the way the Novus Ordo is celebrated which might make a concrete celebration of Mass invalid.

Moreover, Benedict XVI is the Pope of Christian Unity.

HE gets to determine what unity with Peter means.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Benedict XVI, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, SSPX, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM, The future and our choices and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Legisperitus says:

    This Thanksgiving I will give thanks that Bishop Tissier is not Superior General.

  2. TheAcolyte says:

    Thanks Fr. Z for pointing out this important translation distinction!

  3. All the same, the first half of “Jamais je n’accepterai de dire que la nouvelle messe est légitime ou licite, je la dirai souvent invalide comme disait Mgr Lefebvre” means “I will never deign to say that the new Mass is legitimate or licit.”

  4. Mary Jane says:

    The latest on the SSPX from Rorate:

    Doesn’t look promising.

  5. Placement of quotes in post header?

    Translators often “accidentally” leave things out.

  6. Henry: Do I detect a hermeneutic of suspicion?

  7. Dismas says:

    Hmmm, I suppose not all translations are valid, but many are?

  8. aragonjohn7 says:


  9. Henry – he didn’t misplace the quotes. Look at what word he put quotes around… ;)

  10. tzard says:

    Fr. Z “often” uses clever irony in his post titles.

  11. AnnAsher says:

    I sure hope that our masses are not often invalid. But I think that qualifier is important as obviously often isn’t always even in the SSPX mind. I really hope they get over mincing words and take a leap of faith!

  12. Cavaliere says:

    Ironic that Bishop Tissier is so oft concerned over the legitimacy or licitness of the Novus Ordo since we do know for a fact that every one of his Masses and those of all the priests of the SSPX, despite their being of the Extraordinary Form, are illicit. Add to that the fact that all the confessions heard by priests of the SSPX over the years are invalid. If I had not made a valid confession for a significant portion of my life I ought to be more concerned over that fact then whether A or B Novus Ordo Mass was legit.

  13. Cavaliere says:

    Further I find it extremely ironic that the main reason given by members of the SSPX for not accepting the offer from the Pope is that to do so would violate their conscience, the exercise of the same freedom of conscience that they object to in Vatican II documents

  14. Fr Jackson says:

    You got me thinking a little with your comment “HE gets to determine what unity with Peter means.” Let’s jump to a nasty example: during the Guelf – Ghibelline conflicts, it did happen that the Pope excommunicated his political rivals. So, were they truly in union with Peter, those excommunicated persons, or not? Theologically one could argue that this was not a valid excommunication. This is a power that can be misused, right? So, maybe it’s not just so simple as saying that “HE gets to determine…”

  15. irishromancatholic says:

    A couple of points of interest as someone who has followed this story.
    Bishop Fellay said repeatedly in interviews that the Holy Father did not believe it necessary to accept Vatican II to be in full communion with the Church. The discussions had established irreconcilable differences and were at a stalemate. It was then that we heard that the Holy Father (not the theologians on the CDF) proposed that both sides agree to disagree and iron out an arrangement following the recognition of the SSPX. The idea that they would reconcile accepting Vatican II and the New Mass is totally ridiculous to anyone with the slightest knowledge of the SSPX. It is at the heart of their resistence since their founding in 1970. I think the Holy Father knows this but thought he should ask this of them to placate many theologians on the CDF and throughout the Church who want acceptance of Vatican II and the New Mass to be articles of faith.
    Look carefully at what Father Z said; it is the Holy Father who decides what is necessary to be in the Church and no one else. The discussions between SSPX and Rome begin again in October. This story is not over. The Holy See may yet recognize SSPX. I hope and pray for the millions of souls of the SSPX that they may be fully united to Peter.
    Another point: the Holy Father penned the letter on Vatican II and the New Mass to +Fellay on June 30th. This is twenty four years to the day of ++Lefevbre illicitly consecrating bishops. Two days later it was announced the arch-enemy of the SSPX +Muiller would be put in charge of CDF. +Muiller is distrusted by SSPX less than nearly any living soul in the Church. He (+Muiller) called for closing of the SSPX seminary and the SSPX at large. These are some of the obstacles to recognition of the SSPX. So let’s get praying and sacrificing and never loose confidence in God or His Blessed Mother!

  16. anna 6 says:

    The “Vatican Insider’s” English translations are consistently truly awful. In addition, their staff reporter who covers American church and political matters is often totally off base in her assessments.

  17. BobP says:

    Well, there is this little thing called “spirit of” the original statement.

  18. Panterina says:

    The best practice is to compare the translation to the source language (in this case, French), not to another translation.

    Leaving aside for a moment Father Z. valid comment (i.e. that the French is not an actual quote, but the reporter’s own recollection and notes) the French said: ” je la dirai souvent invalide comme disait Mgr Lefebvre. ” Therefore, it appears to me that the Italian follows more closely the French than the English. Whether “souvent” (IT: “spesso”; EN: “often”) refers to the verb to say, or to object (the Mass) is a matter of interpretation. Logically, one would think that it doesn’t make sense to say that the [NO] Mass is often invalid: Either it is or it isn’t, IMHO. I would rather think that the statement was more along the lines of “as Msgr. Levebre would often say” (=”used to say” would be an acceptable rendering, considering that Msgr. Levebre, RIP, is no longer with us), but the sentence, as reported, makes it hard to reach that conclusion.

    I bet that one of our distinguished Canon Lawyers would cry out “hearsay”!, and let’s leave it at that. No need to get all worked out about it.

  19. Volanges says:

    I can’t read minds but as a francophone I interpret his statement as meaning that he often considers the OF Mass invalid. In other words, he acknowledges that, infrequently, the OF Mass is valid and this, I suspect, would be the rare occasion when a priest uses the Roman Canon — a Eucharistic Prayer option that hasn’t been used in my parish in over 8 years.

  20. FranzJosf says:

    Since I was already a Christian, one of the first things to attract me to the Catholic Church, besides the artistic and musical treasures, is it’s rich intellectual history and it’s keen understanding of human nature, both in the individual and in groups across the centuries. I hope this is not heresy, but I think that it wasn’t prudent to open a council so close after WWII. Or perhaps John XXIII knew well the risks, but didn’t live to guide it through the shark-infested waters. The Rhine did flow into the Tiber in gushing torrents. (There were weird liturgical experiments going on already in Germany in the late ’40’s.)

    The Holy Father himself, before he was Pope, said (or wrote) that he could understand people having problems with things in Gaudium et Spes. (If you want a real shock at its shallow naivete, as against the deep and rich intellectual history of the Church, read it. You’ll find some things that are simply utopian in a ’60’s kind of way, ignoring what has already been learned about human nature.)

    So, I don’t think we know enough yet to understand what is meant by “accept the Council”.

    As I understand it, here is the SSPX position boiled down:

    1. Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church.
    2. Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh to the Father except through me.”
    3. The SSPX believes and professes all dogmas in the Deposit of Faith.
    4. There are ambiguities in the Council that seem in conflict with Nos. 1-3.

    Now, I happen to agree with all four points, and I have a friend who happens to be an Archbishop and who knows that I agree with all four points, yet he tells me that I’m still a Catholic in good standing.

    I guess the only difference between me and the SSPX is that I don’t give press conferences and that I am a member of a parish i.e., have canonical standing.

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