Report from New Zealand

Colin Campbell, Bishop of Dunedin, New Zealand, writing in the September 17th issue of the Tablet, has shared a report on the response of the people of his diocese to the new translation of the Roman Missal. The new liturgical texts spoken by the congregation were implemented there beginning in Advent 2010, so the New Zealanders have had a chance to give them a good try.

No use keeping you in suspense. Here are the results. While the minority said it “deepens the meaning” of the Mass and is “more reverent,” most characterized the changes as “unnecessary,” “confusing and meaningless,” and “a backward step and pre-Vatican II in language style.” The negative responses topped the charts by a wide margin. Out of 180 replies to his survey, 17% were positive and 83% were negative. The article listed specific phrases that came in for the most criticism and concern. These included: “and with your spirit,” “under my roof,” “consubstantial,” the wording of the Confiteor, and the use of the word “men” in the Nicene Creed.

Bishop Campbell noted at the beginning of the article that “in the Vatican II document Presbyterorum ordinis, clergy are exhorted to

…listen to the laity willingly, consider their wishes in a fraternal spirit and recognize their experience and competence in the different areas of human activity, so that together with them they will be able to read the signs of the times.

He also commented at the end that “We need to take heed of what Pope Benedict has been saying. It is encouraging to see him quoting with approval the principles for translation proposed by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in Verbum Domini:

A translation of course is always more than a simple transcription of the original texts. The passage from one language to another necessarily involves a change of cultural context: concepts are not identical and symbols have a different meaning, for they come up against other traditions of thought and other ways of life.”

The article concludes with a call to “consult with the people of God and hear them.” This is the first time in the translation saga, of which I am aware, that a bishop has actually proposed listening to the people on this subject. Well done, Bishop Campbell.

Many of the people who have told bishops their concerns (in Ireland, Scotland, Australia, South Africa, and the United States) have, to date, been met with either contradiction or silence. I have interpreted silence to mean a refusal to listen. I now begin to wonder if a different interpretation might be placed on the silence: namely, “Wait and see.”

The article is subscriber-only content. I would encourage those who can get a copy to read the article in full.



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23 responses to “Report from New Zealand”

  1. Julia Smucker Avatar
    Julia Smucker

    Although “consubstantial” is apparently the poster child for complaints about the new translation (of which I have many), the worst single change, in my opinion, is the smallest word of all: beginning the creed with “I.” What does this do to the “Catholic We”??

    1. Lynn Thomas Avatar
      Lynn Thomas

      Pretty much destroys it.

    2. Sandi Brough Avatar
      Sandi Brough

      I for one will not be saying any so-called creed that purports to dictate my thoughts and opinions. Didn’t they try forcing people to spout dogmas in the Inquisition? How did that work out? I guess everything that’s old will be new again. It’s just too bad there are o many Catholics for whom the creed will now be a puke-inducing object of revulsion and scorn. Well done, guys (and I do mean guys).

      1. Rita Ferrone Avatar
        Rita Ferrone

        Sandi, I don’t know how you can say that a creed “purports to dictate my thoughts and opinions.” This is not what a creed is or does. The idea that the translation changes the very nature of a creed isn’t supportable.

        Further, to suggest that the creed “will now be a puke-inducing object of revulsion and scorn” is the sort of dramatic overstatement that undermines the seriousness of your comment. Are you seriously suggesting that people will puke at the recitation of the creed? As much as I object to the coming translation, I can’t foresee this sort of reaction.

    3. Simon Ho Avatar
      Simon Ho

      If I’m not mistaken, the Eastern Churches also use the Creed in the singular format (with the exception of one, I think). The Creed has in the liturgical context been seen as an individual profession of faith against heresies.

  2. Graham Wilson Avatar
    Graham Wilson


    Bishop Campbell is following in the footsteps of Bishop Kevin Dowling CSsR of Rustenburg in South Africa, who wrote two-and-a-half years ago that

    To me there is no cogent reason why the language which the People of God in any place use to express their faith and spirituality, and to celebrate the Eucharist, the sacraments and so on has to conform to a Latin text. People ask why — and rightly so. I am concerned that this latest decision from the Vatican may be interpreted as another example of what is perceived to be a systematic and well-managed dismantling of the vision, theology and ecclesiology of Vatican II during the past years.

    I believe the English-speaking conferences of bishops should have stood their ground and challenged the decisions taken at the Vatican as an expression of collegial discernment. We should have communicated to the Vatican that “it seems good to the Spirit and to us” that we proceed with our discernment together with the whole People of God about what is the best way we can express and celebrate our faith in English and every other language.

    It seems to me that we need to take much more seriously our collegial role and mission as bishops in accordance with the vision and theology of Vatican II, and after discernment and consultation with all the People of God stand up for what we believe to be in the best interests of our people.

    He letter was published in the national Catholic newspaper, the Southern Cross, soon after the Church in South Africa started using the new translation.

    Link Bishop Dowling’s Letter

    Link The Translation Controversy in the Southern Cross (2009 -2011)

  3. John robert francis Avatar
    John robert francis

    Thanks very much, Rita.

    Bishop Campbell reports also that a number of the 180 responses were group or corporate responses from individual parishes. I would assume then that the full number of responses is well over two, even three hundred. And perhaps more.

  4. John robert francis Avatar
    John robert francis

    At one stage in my life, letters critical of the 1973 Sacramentary translation would come across my desk. A not infrequent complaint was the translation of “Credo” as “We believe.” And often the person would go on to say, “How do I know what the person next to me in the pew believes?” I tried to be polite in responding.

  5. Jonathan F. Sullivan Avatar


    Does the article say what polling method was used for the study? It would help set some context to those numbers.


    1. Rita Ferrone Avatar
      Rita Ferrone

      Hi Jonathan,

      The survey instrument isn’t shown. The bishop says this: “I asked the people to consider 3 points: what they liked about the changes, what reservations they had about them, and what their thoughts were on the musical offerings. My intention is to collate the responses and include them in my ad limina report for Rome later this year.” The use of the respondants’ own words suggests an open-ended format. However he also makes reference to a “pass mark” which suggests some numerical measures may have been used as well.

    2. Jack Rakosky Avatar
      Jack Rakosky

      Actually the bishop’s methodology does not seem all that bad.

      Opened ended questions are usually more valid (they show more relationships to other variables) and more reliable (they correlate well with other ways of measuring the same thing) than the forced choice, more quantifiable variables. However they are more work. Generally they have to be coded into categories; researchers often have three persons do the same coding independently.

      Often when I asked people open ended questions about issues, I use a format very similar to the bishops: what do you like about X? what do you dislike about X? and what suggestions do you have about X? I’ve found it very simple, strait forward, and helps people to respond simply. If you try to be too complicated and precise, people spend too much time focusing upon your question.

      A key item not reported was the response rate. How many people did he ask and how many responded. The response rate for the American Grace survey was 53%, and is considered very good for a survey today (people were paid $25). So if the bishop got a 50% response rate and 83% were negative, that would mean 41.5% would be negative even if we assumed the 50% non responders were either all positive or did not care. Hopefully a bishop would be just as motivating as $25 but you never know today.

      1. Brigid Rauch Avatar
        Brigid Rauch

        The mention of the $25 paid to those who participated in the survey suggests one survey method that may be very effective in expressing people’s opinions: Let those who don’t think the new translation is worth 2 cents express themselves by placing a penny in the basket for a few Sundays.

  6. Fr. Jim Blue Avatar
    Fr. Jim Blue

    What is the background in New Zealand with respect to the clergy abuse crisis? The reason for the question, maybe the bishops there have a trifle more moral authority than in the U.S.

    When the Catholic faithful hear the new translation they are going to perceive it as ritual abuse and associate it with the sexual abuse crisis as facilitated by the bishops, thus I suspect the outcry may be greater than in other places when the sexual abuse crisis did not hit quite as hard.

  7. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    Thank you for these comments, Jack.

  8. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    No one has commented on this, but one of the things Campbell’s article does is pave the way for a graceful, or at least a cogent, path of retreat, doesn’t it?

    Here we have a Vatican II document being cited saying it is appropriate to listen to your people and discern with them the signs of the times. Here we also have reference made to Pope Benedict’s (I assume recent) affirmation of a dynamic equivalence approach to translation. Here we have someone who has done all the intermediate steps, and who intends to bring the results to Rome… Well?

    There has been a question raised about what to do concerning the translation, if you think it’s a dud. Here’s an answer to that question that is painstaking and slow, but which has 83% of the people behind it. Glaciers are slow too, but they change things because their mass, even moving slowly, has force.

    It’s always a mistake to think that the people are maleable to whatever comes their way from authoritative sources. How people will take to the new translation, or not, is a very big question.

  9. Mitch Powers Avatar
    Mitch Powers

    180 query responses ? That could have come from one parish alone. Hardly a substantial swath of people. I do wonder if the folk who answered had heard good or bad reviews of the translation process beforehand. And the Vat II document that exhorts Pastors to “listen to the laity willingly and consider their wishes” would apply in areas such as using Latin where there is significant disagreement about the language changes, no? With Latin being the official language of Mass could it be possible in some instances to pray together in Latin for the Ordinary and allow the laity to choose and follow whichever translation they choose?

    1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
      Anthony Ruff, OSB

      Since the results aren’t what you like, you have to dismiss them, is that it?

      Any thoughts about what proportion of the laity support your proposal to increase Latin dramatically? Any thoughts about whether this move would be divisive and hurtful?


      1. Mitch Powers Avatar
        Mitch Powers

        By commenting on it I have not dismissed it. I just don’t think it was a large enough query to reflect New Zealanders as seems claimed in the article. There are enough articles written to support the new translations so it is not as if I have to like or dislike this particular article or results that you infer. I simply questioned the range of the survey.
        I do not know how the parish would react to the suggestion of Latin nor whether it would be hurtful or decisive. It may very well be uniting and supported by the laity. And it iwould not be my proposal, but that of the Second Vatican Council asking Priests and Bishops to teach the laity the parts of Latin in the Ordinary that pertain to them. Vat II addressed the laity in regards to Latin and Pope John XXII’s Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia addressed Priests, Bishops and Seminary Instructors as to the importance and implementation of Latin. So a plan for the Laity and plan for Priests was laid out and if explained as such surprisingly might open a few hearts and minds.

      2. Bill deHaas Avatar

        And subsequent to John XXIII’s letter and the council’s comments about latin, most bishops returned home and within a few years, their experience articulated by most episcopal conferences, was to request Rome to approve even more use of the vernacular. You quote a couple of items and development since then has moved past them. The key are principles – how they are lived out develops and changes. Without this tension between principles and cultural expressions/developments, you wind up with a museum piece. That is exactly what SC/VII addressed.

  10. Paul Robertson Avatar
    Paul Robertson

    I told my bishop my concerns, when I first read the public parts of the Mass earlier this year. Sadly, he died shortly thereafter, and he’s not been in a position to make reports to the Vatican since then. It’s going to be a while until I have a bishop to write to but, in the meantime, I am doing what little I can.

    Sometimes it’s disheartening to be living in a dictatorship. At least my non-church life has freedom from draconian imposition by a power with no interest at all in the opinions of the governed.

  11. Charles Culbreth Avatar
    Charles Culbreth

    Paul R., you write, “Sometimes it’s disheartening to be living in a dictatorship.
    Taking that statement at face value, isn’t that in many ways a very odd statement from a professed Christian soul?

    1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
      Anthony Ruff, OSB

      Yes, very odd.

      Almost as odd as the fact that a Christian soul would have reason to make such a statement.


      1. Sean Parker Avatar
        Sean Parker

        When I wrote to the office of my diocese and claimed that the changes that the church was making was forcing me to consider whether or not to continue going to mass after the new missal was put into effect, their reply was that they’d be praying for me to come back.

        My reply to them was that in order to “come back” one must leave. I’m not the one leaving. The church is the one leaving me, and millions of other Catholics.

        I pray that Catholics will withhold their weekly contributions, until the church agrees to act.

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