What US Priests Really Think About the New Translation

The results of a new, broad-based study, released today, have provided a clear and detailed view of the opinions of priests concerning the new English translation of the Roman Missal. The survey reveals that the opinion of priests in the United States is sharply divided, with a clear majority disliking the new translation and calling for its revision. The survey will be an important milestone in establishing what priests really think of the Missal translation.

The findings are striking. 59% of priests do not like the new translation, compared with 39% who do. An overwhelming 80% agree that some of the language is awkward and distracting. 61% think the translation needs urgently to be revised. In what is perhaps the most timely element, 61% of priests do not want the rest of the liturgical books to be translated in the same manner. The process of re-translating the Liturgy of the Hours and the rites of the Sacraments is currently underway.

The survey was conducted under the auspices of the Godfrey Diekmann, OSB, Center for Patristics and Liturgical Studies at St. John’s University School of Theology-Seminary, in Collegeville MN. The project manager was Chase Becker, assisted by Audrey Seah and Christine Condyles, and advised by Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB, with the aid of Dr. Pamela Bacon, a professional consultant. Every Latin Rite diocese in the US was invited to participate in the survey (there are 178), and of these, 32 from all regions of the country chose to take part. A total of 1,536 priests (diocesan and religious) responded, a response rate of 42.5%. The full results are available here.

More than half of the respondents submitted written comments as well as filling out the questionnaire. Their comments spanned a variety of subjects, including aesthetics, grammar and syntax, reception by their people, translation principles, ecclesiastical process, vocabulary, theological content, book format, and music. In these comments, critique of the Missal outweighed affirmation by a four to one margin. Full comments can be found here.

Two questions about process, unique to this survey, also showed sobering results. More than half (55%) of the respondents are not confident that priests’ views of the translation will be taken seriously. Nearly half (49%) do not approve of the role of the Holy See in bringing the new translation about, compared with 39% who do.

Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin, professor at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, commented: “The most disappointing result of this survey for me is that most priests doubt that their views about the translation will be seriously addressed; on the other hand, this too is not surprising since they were never consulted in the first place.”

Bishop Robert Brom of San Diego was not surprised by the critical assessment of the new translation. “While we don’t want to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater,’ the new missal needs corrective surgery and this should take place without delay,” he said, “The views of priests must be taken into consideration.” Fr. Michael Ryan of Seattle agreed: “The high level of dissatisfaction among priests should be a grave concern for the bishops, assuming they care about what their priests are thinking and feeling.”

Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of ICEL questioned the representative value of the responses, pointing out that the respondents constitute less than 3.7% of priests in the US. Without some indication of selection bias, however, the absolute number would not seem to indicate that the sample is unrepresentative. The CARA survey concerning the Missal, for example, had 1,239 participants, a much smaller fraction of the total Catholic population which the survey is presumed to represent.

“The survey results initially surprised me,” said Jeffrey Tucker, managing editor of Sacred Music Journal and founder of The Chant Café blog, who is far happier with the new translation than he was with the old. “The survey lacks demographic data, but I suspect a generational split is at work here.”

The use of the Missal is a subject of high importance to priests. They are the ones who must lead prayer using it, and who must navigate the complexities of the language in ways that will bring forth meaning for their people. For those who are well satisfied with the new translation, its daily use will be rewarding. For the majority, however, it seems to have created obstacles and a burden. As Fr. Anthony Cutcher, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils observed: “The Eucharistic liturgy and the ability to celebrate it well is at the core of a priest’s identity. … [I]t is clear that America’s priests want to preside well and provide a meaningful experience of the sacred, but archaic language and unintelligible syntax have greatly hampered our abilities as presiders and effectively made that impossible.”

When a majority of priests are unhappy about something as important as the Missal, the situation calls for creative leadership and constructive responses. It is not clear, however, whether those in positions of authority are ready or willing to respond. Msgr. Rick Hilgartner, director of the office of the BCDW at the USCCB, declined to comment for this story, as did Bishop Gregory Aymond, chair of the BCDW, and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, incoming chair of the BCDW. Not replying to a request for comment were: Bishop Arthur Seratelli, former chair of the BCDW and current chair of ICEL; Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB; Cardinal Francis George, former USCCB president under whom the implementation date was set; Cardinal George Pell, chair of Vox Clara; Msgr. Jim Moroney, executive secretary of Vox Clara; and Fr. Dennis McManus, advisor to Vox Clara.

Reactions to the survey were provided by Bishop Robert Brom of San Diego, Father Anthony Cutcher of NFPC, Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin of CTU in Chicago, Peter Jeffery of Notre Dame, Fr. Michael Ryan of Seattle, Jeffery Tucker of Chant Cafe, Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth of ICEL, Fr. Mark Wedig OP of Barry University, And Bishop Donald Trautman, retired bishop of Erie. The full text of their comments is available here. 

The Prayer over the Offerings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

by Alan Griffiths

The Prayer over the Offerings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter reads:

Ascendant ad te, Domine, preces nostrae
cum oblationibus hostiarum,
ut, tua dignatione mundati,
sacramentis magnae pietatis aptemur.
Per Christum …

For this, the new text gives:

May our prayers rise up to you, O Lord,
together with the sacrificial offerings,
so that, purified by your graciousness,
we may be conformed to the mysteries of your mighty love.
Through Christ our Lord.

It seems to be a feature of the current English translation that the aspirational ‘may’ is often used where the Latin uses an optative subjunctive (I think that’s what it’s called). In English, it would be more correct to say ‘Let our prayers …’ as the rising of the prayer is more a matter of God’s condescension than our aspiration, important though that is. To my ear, ‘may’ sounds like a commonplace of motivational speaking!

The final two lines are opaque. What exactly does ‘conformed to the mysteries of your mighty love’ mean? The translator has tried to paraphrase the Latin where there seems to be no need to do so. Aren’t we simply asking that God will make us ready to offer and receive the mysteries?

Dignatio denotes something like ‘gracious kindness.’ ‘Graciousness’ is not an easy word to speak or hear, as in the 1960’s UK Intercessions response: ‘Lord, graciously hear us’ which someone once said sounded like a den of vipers hissing. Would ‘kindness’ not do here?

Future revisers of the Missal might think in terms like these:

Let our prayers rise up to you, O Lord,
together with the sacrificial offerings,
so that, being purified by your kindness,
we may be made ready for the sacraments of your great love.
Through Christ …

Or even this:

Let our prayers rise up to you, O Lord,
together with the sacrificial offerings,
so that we, being purified by your kindness,
may be made ready to receive
the sacraments of your great love.
Through Christ …

Fr. Alan Griffiths is a priest of of Portsmouth Diocese, UK.

“A little abstruse and pretentious”: Abbot Johnson of Vatican Translation Committee on the New Missal

Yes, he really said that. Abbot Cuthbert Johnson, OSB, abbot emeritus of Quarr Abbey of the Solesmes Congregation in England, said this when asked about the online survey of The Tablet:

The Tablet‘s survey, however, appears to indicate that while there is an openness and a degree of appreciation for the new translation, there is a desire for an improvement that will ensure that the English flows more smoothly, and that the vocabulary, while being more dignified is not, as sometimes appears, a little abstruse and pretentious.

This is significant because Abbot Cuthbert Johnson is advisor to the Vox Clara, the Vatican-appointed committee to advise the Congregation for Divine Worship in its approval of English-language liturgical texts, and also a consultor to the Congregation for Divine Worship. We now have someone from within the Vatican structure saying openly that the new Missal texts are abstruse and pretentious.

This maybe interests me more than you, but Abbot Cuthbert also said that English texts need to be adjusted sometimes for the sake of the musical setting – just as Solesmes received permission to adjust the Latin text (this primarily concerns prefaces) in their Latin chant settings. I agree with him.

The Tablet invited numerous people to reply (me among them). It is striking that no one, not even those from officialdom, claimed that the new texts are good, that the missal is a good thing, that we have beautiful and poetic English. Archbishop George Stack of Cardiff, for example, said only that “…prayed properly, these texts will yield greater insights into the mystery of faith” celebrated in Mass. I think that means that if you work hard enough, you can make it work and even get something out of it.

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, chairman of Vox Clara, conceded, “Neither is there a unanimous enthusiasm, especially among the clergy as they adapt to more sophisticated patterns of thought and language. It is also of interest that those who were apprehensive before the texts appeared generally felt their fears were justified.” The most he can hope for is some benefit if we just stick with it: “Patience and repetition of the translation will produce a spiritual deepening, slow, long-term changes for the better.”

Bishop Trautman, retired bishop of Erie PA, famous for being the most vocal opponent of the new Missal, said in part:

Before we translate additional liturgical books according to the principles of formal equivalency used in the missal, would it not be pastorally prudent to ask celebrants and the assembly their experience in receiving the new translation? Could there not be a brief evaluation commissioned by the bishops’ conferences in English-speaking countries? Do we not owe the Holy See an objective and honest discernment? It is not a question of being critical; it is a question of assessing the pastoral implications of the most important activity Roman Catholics do – celebrate Eucharist.

See the full comments of these people at The Tablet, and of others too, here.

Such comments from a wide range of people are encouraging. They show that no one, not even those responsible for the new Missal, is defending it very strongly. Church officials are quietly admitting that something didn’t go quite right. Word has gotten through to them from their priests and people, and of course they also have had to use these texts when celebrating Mass, and officials are cautious now and a bit more honest in their comments.

At the height of the missal controversy a couple years back, back when I was becoming increasingly critical of the Missal project here at Pray Tell, I received intriguing advice from someone involved in preparing and promoting the new Missal. He emailed me something to the effect of, “Relax, Anthony, and don’t kill yourself fighting this thing. You don’t have to – it will fall on its own merits after it appears.” Then he predicted that we’d have something like the 1998 Sacramentary within about a decade.

I hope he’s right, and I increasingly suspect he is. The comments from The Tablet story give me hope.

I wouldn’t re-do the whole Missal, by the way. I wouldn’t change the people’s parts yet again, not now and not in ten years. Maybe a little tweaking here and there, such as “of one substance” instead of “consubstantial.” But the presidential texts could be reworked entirely, and without much difficulty.

He said optimistically.


Tablet Survey: Laity split over new Mass translation, clergy and religious mostly reject it, support high among Latin Mass traditionalists

Catholic opinion remains split down the middle over the new English text of the Mass, an online survey by The Tablet has revealed. Although the online survey is non-scientific in that respondents self-selected to respond, it still gives important information about differing views about the new Missal among most Catholics compared to Catholic who favor the Extraordinary Form (according the 1962 Missal before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council).

Some highlights:

Respondents were almost evenly split over the new translation: 47 per cent said they liked it while 51 per cent said they did not. A similar split was evident when asked about the formal style, whether they found some of the language “obsequious and distracting”, whether they considered the new translation more prayerful and reverent than the old.

Traditionalists [who expressed a preference for the Extraordinary Form over the Ordinary Form] overwhelmingly expressed a preference for the new English translation over the old. But among respondents who prefer the Ordinary Form, only 37 per cent of these liked the new translation. Only 36 per cent believed it to be an improvement on the old one and 61 per cent said it urgently needed to be revised.

Seventy per cent of clergy who participated in the survey disliked the new text. Almost three-quarters (72 per cent) found some of the language obsequious and distracting. Two-thirds of priests found the new text less prayerful. Fewer than a third considered the new text an improvement, and 70 per cent felt it urgently needed to be revised.

Four out of five – 80 per cent – of vowed religious did not like the new translation and the same proportion did not believe that it was more prayerful and reverent. Given a choice, 81 per cent would opt for Mass in the previous English version.

See a fuller report here.