“Sometimes you can benefit the Church just by ceasing to do something stupid.”

Eloquent Anthony Esolen uses the sharpie of his brain to underscore with slashing priority a point that would solve a lot of problems.  HERE

The issue he addresses is the appalling English translation used at Mass in the Novus Ordo.  His preamble, however, stands by itself.

Here is an excerpt, but I want to preface this with an observation.

As we face many of the problems stirred up by the present chaos in the Church, don’t immediately leap to conclude that they are rooted in someone’s malice.

In many instances incompetence and even stupidity suffice to explain the origin of the challenges that are now rising up not single spies but in battalions.

Our “Sophisticated” Bible Translators

“Stupidity,” says Jacques Maritain, “is always a vice.” So are bad taste and slovenly work.

Maritain should have been the editor of the New American Bible, copyrighted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and of the lectionary in use in America – a tenebrous mystery if ever there was one. Please, your excellencies, put these ugly and dispiriting creatures to death.

Sometimes you can benefit the Church just by ceasing to do something stupid. Many of us have known such addition by subtraction. You rip out the dingy plush carpet and the plywood, and you find a beautiful floor of white ash beneath. You strip away the whitewash to reveal again the colorful folk paintings of your ancestors long ago. You convert bad children’s readers to fuel for wood stoves, and you pick up Kipling and Austen and Stevenson again.


When you have made a mistake or done something stupid, its rarely a good idea to keep at it.

If you take a wrong turn, and you are heading away from your desired destination, its rarely helpful to keep going.

No, you stop what you are doing. You turn around, retrace your steps, and get it right.

Our Catholic identity has been eroded to the point that 7 of 10 Catholics don’t believe what the Church teaches about transubstantiation and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The major reason for this is the way the Eucharist has been celebrated for decades. Yes, preaching and catechesis have also been strongly corrosive, but banal, worldly, self-referential and stupid liturgy has broadly wiped faith out of the former faithful and left confusion and fog in those who cling to belief.

We could start to recover a lot of lost terrain and get back on the right path by doing a few things, with catechesis of course.

Let’s move now to walk back really bad ideas.

  • Communion in the hand.
  • Standing for Communion.
  • Versus populum altars.
  • Excessive use of Extraordinary Ministers of Communion.
  • Hostility to the traditional Roman Rite.
  • Banal music.
  • Ugly architecture.
  • Cheap and unworthy vestments and vessels.

The list can be lengthened, but we can start with these.

Bottom line:

Let’s stop infantalizing people.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Our Catholic Identity, The Coming Storm, The future and our choices and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Prof. Esalen has given us an updated version of John T. Noonan, Jr.’s famous “No Room at Travelodge” essay from the 1978 Commonweal. The difference is that Noonan was mocking the “pneumatic’ translation of the old NAB, while Esalen is after the literalistic new NAB.

    One could do the same for the Mass itself. Fr. Z used to do a job on the old pneumatic translations of the Mass. We now need a critique of the Latinized unreadable modern “literal” translation.

    I am mystified. Why can’t translators, old and new, produce a text in decent English?

  2. L. says:

    So, you’re saying less cowbell?

  3. teomatteo says:

    Coming down from the sanctuary to give the homily instead of at the ambo/pulpit.
    Making the Confiteor optional so that our priest NEVER has us say it.
    Holding hands while reciting the Our Father.
    Forcing everyone to greet each other before mass in a fakingly way.
    Installing the big ‘ol flat screens flanking the sanctuary, for what?
    Greeters at the door like we’re at WalMart or somthun.

  4. veritas vincit says:

    As always, Anthony Esolen makes many good points. I have never liked the NAB as a translation, preferring instead the RSV Catholic edition. The NAB, besides having some strange turns of phrase, has way too many footnotes that are way too “modernistic”.

    And I would look forward to “walking back really bad ideas” in the liturgy.

    But I have to say this: As a convert who has never known anything Catholic but the Novus Ordo Mass (which can be celebrated reverently, or not, I have seen both, but still has the Real Presence), when someone says of the current state of the liturgy, “Let’s stop infantilizing people.” I can’t help but take that a bit personally. I have never, ever, felt I was being “infantilized.”

  5. Gil Garza says:

    According to their annual financial report, the US Bishops make $1 million from the royalties of the New American Bible. Regardless of how ugly the translation and shoddy the scholarship the NAB isn’t going anywhere. The irony is that the translation of the NAB used in the Lectionary and Liturgy, which is a pathetic patchwork of scholarship and Vatican interventions, can’t be purchased by anyone for personal reading. The versions published in Bible/Study Bible form have been revised several times and are very different from the version used in the Lectionary and heard in the Liturgy. The laity deserve so much better!

  6. iamlucky13 says:

    Interesting that he started his series with something as seemingly innocuous as rampant abstraction.

    It’s true though. Metaphor, simile, etc should be used as accessories to literal or descriptive language. It should provide a sense of what more there is to learn than is conveyed by plain language, but not displace plain language. Instead, metaphors and other abstractions have become not simply normalized, but baselined. Abstraction now coats everything around us “like the dewfall.”

    Speaking of “slashing,” his lead-in is basically the same idea as Hanlon’s Razor, although the idea is not unique to how Hanlon put it:

    “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

    The translators may be sophisticated, and certainly seem to consider themselves such, but the overuse of abstraction really strikes me as a way to appear creative without having a deep level of understanding of liturgy in order to present it more clearly.

  7. Cy says:

    ….AND the practical effect of such clowny liturgies and their ambiance (maybe comprising 80-85% (is that number low or high?) is that the people become dispirited; lacking in nourishment and constitution to withstand the rigors of the World.

    And for those with the responsibility of raising children the situation becomes even more dire.

    -“Let’s all introduce ourselves as we begin Mass”
    -Bad art
    -“Floating Jesus”‘es
    -Guitars tambourines tinkling lounge pianos during prayers
    -“Lets all stand after Communion until everyone receives” (no kneeling)
    -Bows over genuflections
    -Incense? What’s that? Sounds like a fire hazard. Ditto candles.

  8. Ms. M-S says:

    Ah, Esolin. If he’s ever hit a false note I’ve never heard it. “Sometimes you can benefit the Church just by ceasing to do something stupid. Many of us have known such addition by subtraction.” I can’t resist adding: You throw away the thorns on the altar and the pebbles in the holy water fonts during Lent and leave a seemly desolation. You tear down the cutesy banners and use them to polish the pews. You kick the superfluous personnel off the altar during Mass and leave them, if they’re truly aflame with the desire to help the parish, to do the cleaning that’s been contracted out. You collect the lousy CCD materials and hymnals full of egregious post-VatII hootstuff for a bonfire and replace them with the Catechism and chant. From my years teaching CCD I know kids are ready to talk and discuss—they’re entertained to death elsewhere. And the music? Everyone can sing chant. And I’ve never seen anyone plug their ears to avoid it.

  9. mbarry says:

    One thing I believe destroys people’s concentration during mass is horrible sermons that last for twenty minutes. I find myself tuned out after suffering through those on a regular basis, but it led me to attending a church where the TLM is celebrated. Good can come of bad!

  10. “Latinized unreadable modern “literal” translation”

    I won’t agree with this premise. I don’t use English very often for Mass, but when I do, I haven’t had difficulties.

  11. Charles E Flynn says:

    @Gil Garza,

    I wonder if there are one million American Catholics who would be willing to pay $1 per year to “buy out” their bishops’ need to get money from an inferior translation to which they own the publication rights.

  12. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    veritas vincit,

    You don’t feel infantilized by the celebration of the liturgy, and I can understand that, because you didn’t know what you’ve not had. I’m a convert, too, and I made the “mistake” of asking “If this is what the Mass is like after all the changes, what was it like before them?” I made myself hugely unpopular with various people (including the usher who asked me to sit for the Gospel because everyone else was doing so, on Maundy Thursday)… and various people accused me of thinking I was somehow more Catholic than the Pope…. but I’m so much more at peace than I was.

    To the list of things which need to be abandoned:

    “These or other similar words”
    “Alius Cantus Aptus”
    Instructions on how the laity must behave, while abandoning requirements for how the priest behaves.

  13. William says:

    Step 1: Pray together in a way that makes us feel warm, fuzzy, nice, and good.
    Step 2: We believe that what is good and true is what makes us feel warm, fuzzy, nice, and good.
    Step 3: Those who express concern and fear about what the current leadership is doing are dismissed by even the best among those still in the pews, for it doesn’t make them feel warm, fuzzy, nice, and good.

  14. veritas vincit says:

    “You don’t feel infantilized by the celebration of the liturgy, and I can understand that, because you didn’t know what you’ve not had.”

    Chris Garton-Zavesky: I get that I don’t know what I’m missing. But “missing out” is one thing, being “infantilized” implies that I should have known I was getting an inadequate substitute. That’s not what I experience in the NO Mass at all.

    I intend to check out the TLM when I can readily do so. But if someone wants to convince me that I should go out of my way to attend the TLM, that is the wrong way to do it.

  15. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    I’ll let Fr. Zuhlsdorf speak for himself on this point, but if I had used the word myself I would have meant something like this: he’s being fed pablum instead of grown up food; he’s being limited in his choices (by someone else) to the children’s menu, complete with crayons; he’s being kept in diapers long past the stage when he himself needs them. All of these would be forms of mistreatment visited on the person, but for which he is not directly responsible.

  16. bartlep says:

    1. Get rid of altar girls.
    2. No more disrupting the Mass with the sign of peace.
    3. Please, priests, do not leave the altar to shake hands with congregants during the sign of peace.
    4. Priests, do not say “thank you” after we say “And with your spirit”.
    5. Organ music only — no guitars, tambourines, flutes, pianos.

  17. APX says:

    And sometimes you can benefit the Church by doing something awesome.

    This Sunday is the Feast of St. Michael.
    Here’s the plainchant of the St. Michael Prayer in Latin. I propose choirs and scholas learn it for Sunday and Catholics prayerfully chant it for the Church on Sunday.

    Video and PDF of chant:

  18. ocleirbj says:

    I agree with you, veritas vincit. I’m a convert too, from the rich heritage of the Anglican church, and while it took me a few years to get used to the N.O. Mass, especially its less satisfactory music and sermons, it has still always been an instrument of grace to me. I have also never felt “infantilized” in the presence of Jesus. Though I have to say, that our Canadian lectionary uses the NRSV, and while some of our Masses have guitars and other non-traditional instruments, I have rarely if ever witnessed the errors and excesses that people often complain of here. The priests stick to the rubrics, we kneel during the Consecration, stand for the Gospel, receive the Host any way we want to (standing, kneeling, hand, tongue, the priests never refuse or complain), greet only our closest neighbours during the brief exchange of peace, don’t get jollied along into false cheeriness, don’t have giant screens in the sanctuary etc etc. Any N.O. Mass, reverently celebrated EVEN facing the people, still offers us the Word of God proclaimed, prayers full of insight, and above all, our dear Jesus, the Bread of Life.

    The question to ask ourselves at the end of Mass is not How am I feeling about the way Mass was celebrated today, but, How have I been loved and challenged, forgiven and healed, through my encounter with Jesus today? If this involves my having to forgive the celebrant for whatever didn’t please me, then so be it.

  19. Gregg the Obscure says:

    abandoning use of the propers in favor of pop songs that are theologically iffy (at best) was a terrible idea.

    shelving the Roman Canon was a terrible idea

    offering confession for less than an hour a week was a terrible idea

  20. Traductora says:

    Walking back the permanent installations – that is church art and architecture – is going to be a problem. I am in Israel now and I have been to the Church if the Nativity twice and each time cringed at the Franciscan church. The Greeks have one part of the older church, the Armenians have another, and the Franciscans have a church built in the 19th century on the ruins of older churches. It was never a really beautiful church, and definitely dull after they “adapted” it to VII. In 2013 they seem to have done another set of hideous renovations to the altar area, so that the marble Captain Kirk chair is front and center and that chair and those flanking it are the focus of the church. In practice, priests seem to wander all over the place, waving the chalice around, going down into the “audience,” etc. I was both disgusted and embarrassed, having passed through the Greek and Armenian areas which, while these groups are ethnic nutcases who need to remember that they’re part of the same Church, still looked like they had something to do with the Faith. St Catherine’s didn’t. And it would cost a lot of money to make it look like a real Catholic church again.

  21. hwriggles4 says:

    As a past Life Teen Core Team member, I have found that teenagers would rather have substance than be entertained at Mass. I am glad within the last 15 years, many pastors frown on dance, hand signals, clapping, excessive hugging at the sign of peace, and standing around the altar.

    I have heard teenagers say they don’t wish to attend Sunday night youth group, because it is “too social “.

  22. Suburbanbanshee says:

    It is possible to celebrate the Ordinary Form in a dignified, holy manner, and many of us have had the blessing of attending such Masses. If one is really lucky, one is blissfully protected by the pastor and congregation, against any idea that people would do crazy or unworthy stuff at Mass, in any way.

    The problem is that there is a lot of pushback against doing the ordinary correct way of celebrating the OF. A whole lot of people resent seeing it done right and normally, because they have been taught all the wrong things about Mass.

    But the EF is more of all the right ways of doing it, and less of all the wrong ways.

    That said — if the EF were the only Mass, people would be pulling this stuff at EF Masses, just like the wrongheaded or evil-minded used to try to pull all kinds of things at EF Mass through the ages, and sometimes succeeded for quite a long time. The EF is not magically or divinely protected against all assaults of the world and the flesh; it requires commitment and love, like anything else God asks of us.

  23. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I forgot to say that Esolen is COMPLETELY right about typology, and about translating the Bible so that you can see the intentional connections between words, expressions, stories, etc. The connections really, really make the Bible come alive.

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